Bethpage bubble

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Todd Hamilton felt what he figured was a heavy rain drop. Made sense. The humidity was thick, the sky a heavy gray, and you could hear thunder rumbling off in the distance.

But when he looked, Hamilton realized it wasn’t rain; it was a present from a bird.

“Caddies get s*#% on – literally,” said Hamilton, who just five summers ago lifted the Claret Jug, golf’s oldest prize. But on this day at Brookside Country Club, he was more than happy to carry on one of golf’s oldest traditions – that of caddie.

An odd sight, perhaps, to see a veteran PGA Tour member working as a caddie, but not a U.S. Open qualifier, where the flavor of golf is purest. Players you normally see on TV dressed in pleated pants and colorful golf shirts walk around casually in shorts, tour bags are far outnumbered by those with pop-up stands, fans walk down the middle of the fairway, and never once do you hear someone scream, “get in the hole” on a 6-iron from 175 yards.

No, this is tournament golf for a time-honored purpose: To see if you’re good enough.

Christopher Robertson knows he isn’t, at least not quite yet, though that didn’t spoil his day in the least. Quite the contrary, the 23-year-old from Rittman, Ohio, had the thrill of a lifetime when he put the peg in the ground at 7:40 and looked across the tee box at two men who just the day before had threatened to win the Memorial Tournament – Davis Love and Jonathan Byrd.

“It was phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing,” said Robertson, who recently graduated from Ashland University in Ohio. “I tried not to be star-struck out there, but it was a hard thing not to be.”

If it was hard for Robertson not to take note of Love and Byrd, the young man realizes it’s just as difficult to ignore the fact that he wears hearing aids. “Got them when I was 2 1/2,” Robertson said. Then, he smiled and said, “but I had played golf before that.”

Being hairing-impaired is an incovenience, but Robertson refuses to use it as an excuse. That’s why, in Kevin Hall, the former Ohio State golf standout who is deaf, Robertson has discovered a role model and mentor.

“We’ve started texting,” Robertson said. “I’m honored to have met him.”

Though he birdied his first hole, Robertson never got anything going. On a classic, tree-lined course, the young man who just a few weeks ago shot 64 in his first Hooters Tour event sprayed it right, pulled it left, and pretty much “was behind every tree on the course.”

When it was all over, Robertson signed for 81 and felt terribly disappointed. His coach, Dave Geier, told him to shake it off, to consider it a priceless learning experience.

“Look at who he played with,” Geier said. “What would some people have paid to be in a pro-am like that?”

Geier said he would point out to Robertson that at the 357-yard, par-4 13th, Love and Byrd – men who’ve combined to play in 790 PGA Tour tournaments – hit irons. Robertson hit driver.

“Today was about watching and learning,” Geier told the two-time NCAA Division II champion.

The funny thing is, Robertson said, “when I graduated last December, if you had asked me if I’d be playing professional golf, I would have answered no.” What made him change his mind were all the phone calls he got, from friends and supporters after his story was publicized.

“People called up and wanted to give money toward my career,” Robertson said.

So, here he is, playing for pay. The Hooters Tour is a possibility, though Robertson is also considering the Dakotas Tour. He knows the U.S. Open isn’t on his dance card, but he can’t complain about the experience.

Nor will you hear Hamilton complain. It’s the second straight year he and his fellow club member from Vaquero GC in Westlake, Texas – Conrad Shindler – traded places. Shindler, a sophomore member of the Texas A&M NCAA championship golf team, caddied for Hamilton at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament; Hamilton, a two-time PGA Tour winner, did the honors at U.S. Open sectional qualifying.

“He held in there pretty good,” Hamilton said after Shindler shot 70. (In the afternoon, Shindler went for 70 at the Lakes, but at 140 he failed to advance.) “But I’d have to say the caddie was perfect.”

Perfect? That might describe the end to Robertson’s day. Not only did he get another 18 holes alongside Love and Byrd, but he rebounded with a 71 at the Lakes Course. It left him well outside the cut, but that’s what learning experiences are about.

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